London Free Press

February 20, 2002

Gehring committed no crime, but she's hardly innocent

By Ian Gillespie -- Free Press News Columnist
London Free Press

What's that, Miss Gehring? Me? After class? Some private tutoring, you say?

Right you are, ma'am.

Nudge nudge. Wink wink.

Lucky lad.

I just wish I'd had a high school teacher like Amy Gehring. Lord knows I could've used some help in biology.

And don't tell me those British bucks didn't enjoy snuggling with the shapely substitute teacher from Otterville. It's not exactly like pulling teeth now, is it? This was no violent attack by a stranger in a laneway. This was a harmless, consensual bit of randy fun. Right?

Wrong.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

And if you've thought that, or joked about that -- and I admit I have -- then you don't understand this issue and you need reminding.

We all need reminding.

And that's why we need to tell Gehring's story. That's why we need to pay attention to this cautionary tale and heed its lessons about ethics, boundaries and abuse of power.

The recent trial ended with a jury in Guildford, England, finding Gehring not guilty on three charges of indecent assault against a 15-year-old boy and his 14-year-old brother. The jury failed to reach a decision on a fourth indecent assault charge and the judge issued a not guilty verdict.

In the eyes of the law, Gehring committed no crimes. But she's hardly innocent.

She may have been lonely, depressed and far from home. She may have been misguided and confused. She may have been -- and a times, clearly was -- intoxicated.

But her actions -- ones she admitted to police and in court -- were wrong. She overstepped boundaries of decency. She shattered bonds of trust. And her actions must not be minimized.

The Otterville native, 26, was accused of having sex with a 15-year-old boy and his 14-year-old brother while working as a supply teacher in December 2000 at a school in Surrey, south of London. She denied the charges. Though one of her denials -- that she wasn't sure if she'd had sex because she'd been too drunk to remember -- was hardly reassuring.

She did, however, tell British police she kissed and cuddled one of her young students. She admitted she found one of the boys attractive and developed a crush on him.

"If we were older," she said, "I think we probably would have been a couple."

Gehring admitted to partying with a group of young teens, buying them alcoholic drinks and even occasionally sleeping at their homes.

She admitted to having sex with a 16-year-old boy at another Surrey school, but no charges were laid.

"There was no allegation that I forced him to do anything," she said.

In a BBC radio interview after the trial, Gehring noted "a big difference" between

15-year-old boys in Canada and the streetwise 15-year-olds she taught in England.

Those comments are almost as disturbing as her actions.

Those are the comments of an immature, emotionally hobbled woman unable to see and uphold her duties as a teacher.

We have ethical boundaries and rules of conduct. And one of those is simple: You don't have sex with kids.

Let's repeat that: You don't have sex with kids.

And make no mistake -- despite their posturing, a 15-year-old boy is still a kid.

Now, Gehring has come home to Otterville.

The British tabloids, with their cheesy photos and steamy stories, have lost the scent and abandoned the trail.

But Gehring has learned some things from them.

"Call my literary agent," she politely told a Free Press reporter at her home on Monday. "Please, if you need a comment, talk to my agent."

She didn't say: "I made mistakes." She didn't say: "I showed bad judgment." She didn't even say: "Leave me alone."

No. She said: "Talk to my agent."

It seems Gehring hasn't yet learned the real lesson here. But there's still time for her.

Time, however, keeps running past many of us. Every time we make light of sexual harassment, or joke about sexual assault, or giggle over a tale of sex between a teacher and her young students, we diminish ourselves and slide a bit backward.

Gehring's story may be titillating. But it's no laughing matter.

Copyright © 2002, The London Free Press.